In this blog Brian, Jared and Christian look back over their own careers – and those of many they’ve worked with – to answer a question they hear from lots of aspiring executive protection agents: How can I get better at my game – and improve my professional opportunities?
There’s no simple answer, and it all takes work. The good news is you can start by making better use of downtime.
We know we’re all way too busy, but let’s be honest: Every executive protection agent has at least some downtime, some time. Most daily. All weekly. This includes in-house and outsourced FTEs, and folks working both executive protection and residential details.
You might be waiting for the principal to finish up a meeting. Or perhaps you got to your gate early and the plane was delayed. Maybe you’ve been working a lot of hours and have built up a lot of PTO. Whatever.
So what should we do when we are not providing direct protection to the principal? For one thing, we should be thinking hard about readiness and constant improvement of the programs we’re part of. But successful EP agents also use slack time to grow their careers and the industry as a whole. Let’s look at three ways.
1. Make your current executive protection program even better
Sure, your program is great. Nothing ever happens to the principal and the checks keep rolling in, so what’s not to like? Plenty.
You might think you’re hot, but you’re not. You’re on your way to complacency. And complacency is what destroys more EP programs (and careers) than any other of the deadly sins.
To get beyond complacency, stop being so self-satisfied. Take a hard look at what could and should be better. Let a little constructive discontent guide you as you ask some hard questions.
What can YOU do to make things better? How can YOUR TEAM improve? What would it take to lift YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY up to the next level?
Even without the benefit of an external audit, you can improve. Examine and document all elements of the program (no papers in binders, please – it’s better to use an encrypted digital system that is centrally stored/available/editable), then regularly dedicate some “downtime” to constant improvement.
Once you’ve done your thinking, share it. Report your findings and improvement points to colleagues and managers. Find out what it takes to make sure your thoughts on SWOT and gap analyses get included in quarterly reviews or whatever else is relevant.
Don’t just punch the clock. When you’re not thinking about your protective procedures, think and learn more about your clients. Read their books, follow them on social media or set up Google Alerts to know when they or their company/organization is in the news. If they are avid surfers or golfers, learn about those things and take some lessons. Hey, you might even find a new hobby. If they travel overseas frequently, try to learn another foreign language (or at least the culture) so that you can better serve them while abroad. Live, learn and breath EP.
2. Sharpen your saw
As Stephen Covey pointed out in his important book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “sharpening the saw” is one of the things effective professionals are good at. Your most important asset is you. Take a lesson from Covey – and some great protective agents who have boosted their careers – and get good at improving this asset. You’ll never regret it.
You can sharpen your saw in several ways, and all of them are important.
Get off the couch and get moving. Yes, we mean you.
Be ready to pass your next physical fitness test. Do it by exceeding all requirements.
By all means, go ahead and have some fun while you’re at it. Try that new sport your principal is passionate about. Or maybe you can combine some exercise with another way to turn downtime into uptime, like listening to a relevant podcast when taking a run. No, this doesn’t include your favorite tracks from Five Finger Death Punch, though that might be helpful for other reasons.
The hard skills are important. They are the basis of what we do. Learn them, get better at them and excel at them. Hard skills are the sine qua non of EP readiness: without them, the other ones don’t matter. But don’t forget the other ones, either, because without soft skills and physical readiness, your career is toast.
Don’t make the easy choices when it comes to training hard skills. Make the hard ones. Yes, you might think it’s a blast to shoot, but becoming a better marksman will not make most people in the field a better EP agent.
Most of us got into the business due to the hard skills we learned in the military, law enforcement or government work. We like the hard skills because they’re often part of who we are, what we do, and how we think. That’s all great, but it’s not enough moving forward in corporate executive protection. You’re going to have to learn some new stuff to keep your saw nice and sharp. When was your last course in surveillance detection or covert protection, for example?
It’s important to carefully consider your hard skill training needs and opportunities. Set up an annual training plan and budget for your team and yourself. If you can’t afford to attend all the third-party training courses you’d like to, get your team members together to organize as much self-guided team training as possible during non-coverage times. Everyone on the team can take the lead on producing and executing on a key EP training element in line with the annual training plan and goals. If team training is not possible, each individual team member should be training in something that will improve their ability to provide protection to the principal – and improve their own career opportunities.
Yes, we know: the skill is more important than a piece of paper that proves you have it. But your mom was right when she told you to get some education, do the work and get the degree. Certifications matter in our field just like everywhere else.
Other certifications may also helpful for EP agents. You might want to look into some project management courses and certifications, for example, or dig into intelligence, event or consulting certifications. If you are on a team with global travel and responsibility, you’ll also want to check out the relevant certifications for countries other than the U.S.
Make these a part of your annual performance and development plan. How do the words “This year I am going to get my CPP or CTM” feel?
A lot of guys are fit and have excellent hard skills. Fewer have the soft skills that really enable them to excel in this field, especially in contemporary corporate contexts.
We gave a pretty extensive look at these soft skills in a previous blog, so we’ll simply refresh your memory with a list here:
- Professional commitment
- Service mindedness
- Social skills
We also refer you to Jared’s “social chameleon” blog.
If you didn’t learn these things by the time you were five years old, you’re in trouble right? Well, yes and no. The good news is this: None of us are “stuck” in a way of being. We can all change for the better. Well, most of us.
So what to do?
First, increase your awareness of these areas. Identify the ones you need to improve. Better yet, ask your significant other or teammates to help you pinpoint the ones you need to improve.
Then, learn more about these important soft skills and how you can cultivate them. Watch some videos on YouTube. Read some books. Go to a lecture. Get serious about it.
Finally, practice. Didn’t make it to kindergarten the day they were teaching self-regulation? Then figure out how to do it now. You didn’t move from crawling to running in one day, and you don’t need to become an instant Zen master, either. You just need to get started and then keep going.
“What we hope ever to do with ease, we must first learn to do with diligence.”
Don’t snooze when it comes to tech.
There are tons of nice bright folks developing new, helpful apps and tech tools every day. There are also plenty of clever bad guys sharpening their own chainsaws, figuring out ways to cut through your obsolete protective barriers and sleepy old SOPs.
You need to stay up to date. Some of these tools will help you sharpen your saw. Some will help you communicate in new, useful ways. Some will be a time suck, yes. But staying curious about tech will keep you in touch with the world around you and out of the old folk’s home.
Be a student of cameras, alarm systems, the IOT and drones. Go to tech conferences and diversify your skill set beyond the realm of physical executive protection. Think like a bad guy: “How would I penetrate this detail? What are their weaknesses?” You might even want to try out a little intra-team red teaming.
How to say up to date? Check the blogs. Talk to colleagues. Find some millennials, buy them a kale salad with artisanal goat cheese, and ask them to show you their favorite apps.
3. Network, network, network
One of the unfortunate things about corporate executive protection teams is the tendency to become “heads down”. They focus on one principal and one program, as they should, but they lose sight of the big picture. They don’t get out enough. They don’t give themselves opportunities to do comparative analysis with others and thereby improve their own game. They don’t learn new things from new people.
We’ve seen it happen more than once. People on a team are convinced that they are the best-possible set up, ever. Everyone on the team is a former Navy Seal, Israeli special forces veteran or kung fu master. They’ve got nothing to learn from nobody.
In reality, they haven’t benchmarked their detail with others and they may be grossly lacking in many areas. They may only know the old EP models where they stick out like a sore thumb. They’ve never been trained in covert protection, surveillance detection or anything but the diamond formation.
It’s a shame, because there are so many impressive details out there utilizing new techniques and technology that can better your own detail.
Sharing experiences and benchmarking with other protection professionals is under-appreciated. Getting involved in industry associations such as ASIS, ATAP and the emerging International Protective Security Board can change this. The experience that you have in an association is what you make of it. We recommend that you get into it, get involved and get going on making things better for yourself and others.
Participating in, speaking for or volunteering leadership in these associations can also be included on your annual performance and development plan. Increased and continuous networking and industry association participation are good for the following reasons:
- You get to know other people involved in the same industry. This means you share lessons learned and discover best practices. You showcase your team, just as others do. You bring ideas you learn there back into your own program and improve your team’s protective readiness.
- You learn about the latest and greatest innovations in the EP Industry, both technological and procedural. Again, these can be brought back to the EP program and add value.
- You give and get referrals to reliable, proven vendors and specialist partners that could be of assistance to the EP program, also allowing the EP team to scale quickly to any requirements that may arise with their current program.
- You keep your career moving forward by meeting and greeting the folks that might be the ones to give you your next step up the career ladder – or source a new teammate.
Get over your fear of public speaking. Learn to talk about EP at conferences. Get involved in panel discussions. This will help you greatly in the future, and not only because it boosts your visibility. It also improves your self-confidence. You’ll learn to command a room and the clients will notice how comfortable you are in any situation. It’s all good.
But you also need to network to help you land your next job. It’s not blindly submitting your resume online that will help you move up. It’s meeting a connection through networking that will help you get to the next level.
Make friends and cultivate relationships. Take people out for dinner, lunch or coffee and shoot the shit. Do it with no agenda. Pay it forward. Help mentor others and remember to treat everyone with respect. You might think someone isn’t on your level and then three years later you’ll be surprised that they’ve stepped up and become a major player. You messed up your relationship with that person because you were too cool for school. Beat evil with good. Drive the conversation forward.
There’s always time for constant improvement, learning and networking
We all need to get better, and we can all get better at encouraging professional development. It’s important for us as individuals, teams and companies. And in the end, our industry is only as good as the many people who participate in it.
“Not having time” is not an excuse you’ll feel good about.
What do you think? Have we forgotten anything? Why aren’t we all doing better at these things already? Please let us have your thoughts!